Despite some legislative concerns, Gov. Terry Branstad will not seek additional funds for the opening of a new state prison scheduled to open next year in Fort Madison.
Some lawmakers have expressed concern about adequate staffing at the new 800-bed prison scheduled to open in 2014. Construction was started on the $130 million prison in 2010 to replace one built north of Fort Madison in 1839.
“So we’re going to have some start-up costs,” said Rep. Todd Taylor, D-Cedar Rapids, the ranking Democrat on the Justice Systems Appropriations Subcommittee.
The Department of Corrections told the panel the total operating costs for the new beds at Fort Madison are estimated to be $11.8 million, phased in across the next two fiscal years.
Much of the transition cost has been built into the budget for the new prison, said House Justice System Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Gary Worthan, R-Storm Lake.
However, Taylor said, since construction started, staffing levels at Corrections have been reduced.
“At the time, it was sold to us as being able to run the new prison with the same staffing level as we had,” the said. “But that was about 130 staff members ago. So we need to do some backfilling for the loss we’ve had over the past few years.”
Corrections is incurring a lot of overtime costs, Taylor said, and hiring more staff would “help us spend that money more wisely.”
In his opening day remarks, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, D-Des Moines, called for ensuring “that the transition between our pre-Civil War prison to our new maximum security facility is done as smoothly as possible and in a way that ensures public safety.”
That won’t require additional funding, according to Branstad Chief of Staff Jeff Boeyink.
Staffing levels have been reduced, but Boeyink said Corrections has worked with the Board of Parole to reduce prison population by about 800 since 2010.
“That’s equivalent to a prison,” he said Tuesday. The governor does not anticipate asking lawmakers to approve supplemental funding for the current year to cover transition costs, he added.
Also, Boeyink said, Corrections believes it can run the new prison with fewer staffers because of its modern, efficient design. Branstad has recommended $368.1 million for Corrections in the fiscal year beginning July 1, an increase of $6.4 million.
At the groundbreaking in 2010, former Gov. Chet Culver said it was his goal to make this prison the best in the country, complete with the latest green technology and safety features.